Who invented the Breton flag ?

Gwenn ha du in Nantes

The largest ever Breton flag was deployed in Nantes in front of the Duke of Brittany castle in 2022 (photo France 3 Youtube)

In 2023, the Gwenn ha du ("white and black in Breton") celebrates its 100th anniversary. Created in 1923 by a Breton nationalist activist, Morvan Marchal,  the Breton flag has become an essential symbol of Breton identity, in France and in the eyes of the world.

This is not the first Breton flag. In medieval times, during the crusades, the Pope asked each nation to have an identifying flag , a cross, but of a different color. Thus, England choose a white cross on red, French crusaders had a red cross on white, Flemmish, a green cross and Bretons had a black one on white background. Brittany dukes later added black ermines on it but the Breton navy kept the Kroaz du (black cross in Breton) until their incorporation into the French royal navy in 1640. 

It is not understood why Morvan Marchal decided to design a new flag. Probably out of the desire to create something more modern without any religious symbolism which would be more acceptable in republican France. The gwenn ha du flag consists of nine horizontal black and white stripes. They are all the same width. They correspond to the former bishoprics of Armorica. White for Lower Brittany with Léon, Trégor, Cornouaille and Vannetais and black bands for Upper Brittany (le Pays Gallo namely) with Rennais, Nantais, Dolois, Malouin and Penthièvre counties. Ermines are placed on the top right corner like stars in the American flag. The number of Ermines doesn't have any particular meaning and may vary.

For a long time, this flag was only waved by minority nationalist groups but in 1965 after the first victory for Stade Rennais in the French soccer cup, it became a popular symbol of identity. A proud moment for Breton folk. As the journalist Benjamin Keltz explains "The Breton flag was therefore out in the middle of Paris and the image was picked up by all television cameras". 

Today, the Regional Council has adopted the Gwenn ha du even if the region has its own flag. Many city halls in Brittany, including in the Loire-Atlantic department, which is not included in the Brittany administrative district, have put the Breton flag above the front door besides the European and French flags. Nantes raised theirs in 2022. In 2009, the French government, at the demand of the Regional Council of Brittany, accepted the Gwenn ha du as a logo on car license plates. The flag is everywhere today in Brittany. It is waved during soccer games and in the streets. Every demonstration has its Breton flag holders.


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